If it was easy we'd all be doing it 4 months ago

If it was easy we'd all be doing it

Half five in the morning and Fintan Burke is out the door.

It could be ten o'clock at night by the time he's back. The young St Thomas' defender is an electrician and, as far as inter-county GAA players go, he's one of the busiest around. Things would be a hell of a lot easier if, like the majority of his team-mates, he'd taken on a standard 9-5 job that didn't involve all the hard labour but there's no fear of this lad.

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And even though he's the only tradesman in the Galway panel, he won't be handing in his badge any time soon.

Lukasz Kirszenstein, who's Galway's strength and conditioning coach, doesn't push Burke as much as the rest of the panel and that aside, it's the same treatment as everyone else.

"It can take its toll sometimes," says Burke ahead of his club's clash with Ballyhale Shamrocks in this Sunday's All-Ireland club semi-final.

"You have to be very strategic in planning out your days. You're up at half five in the morning and you're not home from training until nine o'clock at night. So by the time you get your work done you're trying to get away to training and then you're facing into an hour and half of tough training.

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"Obviously you're under pressure with time and you might be more tired but the flip side of it is a lot of lads might work in an office and they're sitting down all day so when they finish work they're stiff and sore whereas at least when you're on your feet all day you're limbered out."

At work, as well as at training, they're understanding of his busy schedule and Burke's set-up shows that, despite the ever-increasing demands in the inter-county game, they can be managed if you've the appetite for it.

"I always wanted to be an electrician. Colm Burke is the boss and in fairness he's good. If I need a day's rest coming up to a championship match there's no problem. Or if I need to lie in or have a hard training session coming that evening he'll always look after you. He helps that way. 

 "To be honest, I enjoy being an electrician so I wouldn't really change it," he adds.

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It's amazing really that, since their first county title in 2012, St Thomas' have won five more Galway championships. As Burke tells us, while the St Thomas' club covers a big area that includes the Kilchreest, Castledaly and Peterswell areas in east Galway, its population is small with no more than 200 houses in the parish.

It was the March following that first county title win when St Thomas won their one and only All-Ireland title and even though he was only a chap back then, Burke remembers it well. That's because six of his cousines were on the team and his dad was the manager. Now, his cousin is the manager and he has three more of them are on the team alongside him.

"I think there's a funny clip of me on the Six One news that was doing the rounds at the time of the 2013 final," he recalls now.

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"I was only around 15 or 16 and Marty Morrissey pulled me for an interview. Obviously when you're a young lad like that going up to Croke Park to see your club is massive. It probably drives you on and inspires you to be as good as you can be and try to get there yourself."

It hasn't all been plain-sailing though and the 2019 All-Ireland club final is one that Burke doesn't remember too fondly. To compound the 17 point beating Ballyhale gave the club that day, Burke tore his cruciate ligament and it was only after an intense rehab schedule that he made it back.

He did make it back though, and he made it back in record time as no longer than six months after the injury, he came on in his club's 2020 county final win over Liam Mellows. Since then, he's become a key player for Galway but for now, the focus is on St Thomas and it's on beating Ballyhale Shamrocks this Sunday in Semple Stadium.

"I said it as a joke in the dressing-room after we lost to Ballyhale, I said to Kevin Lally that I'd make it back for the county final and he kind of laughed about it and said nothing but in the back of the mind it was always there that I was going to try to make it back. That was nearly the main motivating factor of having something to look forward to and having a reason to get up in the morning and do my exercises."

“Obviously they’re a serious force and we’ll be under pressure, but it’s days like this you really get to see how good you are, when you pit yourself against the very best.”

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19 January 2022; St Thomas' hurler Fintan Burke pictured ahead of his side’s AIB GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Club Championship semi-final against Ballyhale Shamrocks of Kilkenny.  This year’s AIB Club Championships celebrate #TheToughest players in Gaelic Games.